New active-shooter training focuses on getting medics access to 'warm zone' to save lives

LAKE FOREST PARK, Wash. -- Situations like the mass shooting in Texas are something that keep most law enforcement up at night.

The fact this happened inside a small-town church proves that active shooter situations can happen anywhere.

But as mass shootings have become more common, local tactics and training  in Western Washington are beginning to change.

“We know that something like this is going to happen sooner or later in one of our communities,” said Douglas Knight, Battalion Chief at Northshore Fire Department.

Northshore Fire Department along with Lake Forest Park Police are conducting new training with other agencies focusing on firefighters getting access to mass casualty scenes quicker.

Last Thursday's active shooter training at the Town Center at Lake Forest Park certainly looked and sounded real, but the victims were all actors and the situation was only a drill.

But first responders participating from Bellevue, Mercer Island, Kirkland, Redmond, Northshore and Lake forest Park take this new type of practice very seriously.

Here’s the scenario:

"What we have is an active shooter in a mall situation that has opened fire on innocent victims," said Lake Forest Park Chief of Police Steve Sutton. "We have a report from 911 that we have an active shooter and police arrive on scene to take care of that threat. They enter the building and look for the problem. Once they find the problem, the neutralize that problem. From there we ask the officers to secure the scene and to make sure its safe for fire personnel."

The point Sutton explained is to prevent the injured from becoming the casualties. "There's some really horrific injuries involved with gunfire and the only way to get them out and get them treated is do it quickly."

The training is designed to show the nearly dozen agencies involved that every second can save lives.

"What we’ve learned in these active shooter events--- they usually end fairly quickly," Sutton went on to say. "However the wounded have serious injuries and we want to get to them as soon as we can. The longer the delay the less chance of survival."

"They did some research after Columbine," Knight explained. "They just realized that fire needs to go in earlier with police and rescue task force teams (is what they’re called) into a warm zone--which is what their called--where police have secured the area and then we can go in and start making rescues and get the seriously injured out."

Most law enforcement are already train to enter a scene, look for the shooter and neutralize the threat--but for many agencies, emergency fire crews and paramedics still have to wait to gain access before they're able to treat the victims.

"In the past there's been problems where folks have had to wait and people died waiting for assistance," said Knight. "That's not good enough anymore."

That's why some local agencies are teaming up to create protocol that takes active shooter training a step further---arming medics with ballistic vests and creating  a 'warm zone' while a scene is still active for firefighters to get in quicker.

Fire and medic crews involved, understand that comes with a risk.

"We create a warm zone within the active shooter area to make it safe for the firefighters  to come into," said Sutton. "They're not completely cleared and 100% cleared, but they're enough that we feel comfortable with armed guards to make it safe for the fire fighters."

The new protocol trains Lake Forest Police officers and other agencies to literally escort fire personnel into a fairly active scene. Making team work at a scene so much more critical to reducing the death toll.

"Obviously our goal is to save lives," said Knight. "Emergency trauma uses the golden hour as kind of a bench mark--if we can get folks to the hospital, into the operating room in less than an hour then they have a fighting chance--much longer than that and they just don't."